Washington Nationals 2020: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

How will things shape up in the NL East?

The Nationals’ march to the 2019 World Series title seemed to come out of nowhere, thanks to their disappointing 2018, their awful start to 2019 and their Wild Card status. But from June 1 on, they tied the Astros as the winningest team in baseball, carrying that momentum over into October, when they overcame one deficit after another on their way to the title. And virtually the entire team, with one major exception — third baseman Anthony Rendon — returns in 2020, which means they should again rank among the league’s best teams. This time, however, they won’t be sneaking up on anybody.

 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Nationals

Washington Nationals logo“They’ll be a lesser team this year with their ace pitchers coming off a big workload in October — and, of course, without Anthony Rendon. The good thing is they have some young guys who can still get better, like Trea Turner. He’s got more power than you think, he can outrun any pitcher/catcher combination, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him win an MVP. Of course, I could also say that about Juan Soto, who has a terrific pure swing and makes incredible plate decisions. And keep an eye on Carter Kieboom; whether or not he’s on the Opening Day roster, he should play a big role this season. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are the best Big 3 in the game, but they’ve got to hope Scherzer is over the back and neck problems that limited him last year, and Strasburg’s never thrown this many innings. Sean Doolittle struggled at times last year, but he threw more off-speed pitches in the second half, and I think Tanner Rainey will do a great job in the setup role — he’s got excellent stuff, just needs a little better command.”

 

Beyond the Box Score

 

Living on the Edge It’s worth revisiting this fun fact one last time: The Nats faced elimination games five different times in October, beginning in the Wild Card game against the Brewers, and trailed at some point in all five of those games — but stormed back to win them all, capped by Game 7 of the World Series, when they trailed the Astros by two runs entering the seventh.

 

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Fifth Wheel The Nationals had opportunities to find a fifth starter on the open market over the winter, but they appeared content to allow a trio of young righthanders who had varying degrees of success in 2019 — Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth — to duel for the job in spring training. One complicating factor: Of the three, only Fedde has a minor league option remaining.

 

Staff Shuffling Despite touting their management continuity, the Nats made some curious changes to their coaching staff, led by Tim Bogar’s promotion from first base coach to bench coach, and Bobby Henley’s move from the third base coaching box to first base. Chip Hale, Davey Martinez’s bench coach for the past two seasons, will move to third base. Paul Menhart, who replaced the fired Derek Lilliquist in May, returns as pitching coach, as does Kevin Long as hitting coach.

 

Max Health Max Scherzer’s neck and back issues in 2019, which forced him to the injured list in late summer and caused him to scratch from a start in the World Series — not to mention his age (35) and the toll of the extended playoff run — are certain to raise concerns about his health heading into 2020. Though he took time off immediately after the World Series, he planned to head to Florida to begin a throwing program in early January, around the time he normally would.

 

Kieboom or Bust Top infield prospect Carter Kieboom struggled through a brief big league call-up in late April and early May (.128/.209/.282) but remains on track to contribute in the majors in 2020, either at third or second base.

 

No Bryce, No Problem Some predicted trouble for the Nationals offense after losing star outfielder Bryce Harper to the Phillies in free agency. But if anything, their production was up across the board in 2019 without him. The 2019 Nationals exceeded their 2018 forebears by 102 runs, 40 homers and 43 points of OPS. Attendance at Nationals Park, however, was down without Harper, from 2.53 million in 2018 to 2.26 million in 2019, the team’s lowest total since 2011. There should be a significant boost in 2020, of course, after the World Series title.

 

Projected Lineup

 

LINEUP

SS     Trea Turner (R)

RF     Adam Eaton (L)

LF     Juan Soto (L)

3B     Asdrubal Cabrera (S)

1B     Eric Thames (S)

2B     Howie Kendrick (R)

C      Kurt Suzuki (R)

CF    Victor Robles (R)

 

BENCH

UT    Carter Kieboom (R)

INF   Starlin Castro (R)

OF    Michael A. Taylor (R)

C      Yan Gomes (R)

1B    Ryan Zimmerman (R)

 

ROTATION

RHP     Max Scherzer

RHP     Stephen Strasburg

LHP     Patrick Corbin

RHP     Anibal Sanchez

RHP     Erick Fedde

 

BULLPEN

LHP     Sean Doolittle (C)

RHP     Will Harris
RHP     Daniel Hudson

RHP     Tanner Rainey

RHP     Hunter Strickland

RHP     Wander Suero

LHP     Roenis Elias

RHP     Joe Ross

 

2020 Prediction: 2nd in NL East

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